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Published: Dec 15, 2016
The number of hosting choices available to the perspective website owner can be overwhelming. It is possible to get hosting for a couple dollars a month — and sometimes free. And it is possible to get hosting that costs hundreds and even thousands of dollars a month. Yet to the uninitiated, they can seem the same. In fact, it sometimes looks like the cheaper plans offer more: unlimited bandwidth, storage, and email addresses! Why doesn't Amazon get in on that action? Well, as may not surprise you, hosting choices are more complicated than they may appear.
The majority of hosting plans can be categorized into five main types: Shared, VPS, Cloud, Dedicated, and Reseller. Let's look at each of them.
Shared hosting is the most popular and affordable hosting option. With it, you rent space on a shared server with other site owners. This means you're also sharing resources like bandwidth, memory, and processing power. This can be a problem, because a single server can support hundreds and even thousands of websites. Most of these websites will get very little traffic, allowing hosting companies to offer more resources to the small number who require them. But there are still limits.
Enough firepower for most small business and personal websites, shared hosting is the most affordable hosting type available. With it, you share server resources with other customers, so you have all the functionality of a professionally managed web server but only shoulder a small share of the server cost. Also see: Unlmited Hosting.
Note, however, that not all shared hosting is the same. Different companies use different servers with different amounts of resources. What's more, some companies host more websites on a server than others. So there may be a good reason to pay for $10 per month hosting rather than $1.99.
If you've exceeded the power offered by a shared hosting plan, virtual private server (VPS) hosting will arm you with increased performance without saddling you with the full cost of a dedicated server. VPS hosting provides greater performance, because fewer websites are using a single physical server. But just as important, it provides full control of your server. Although a VPS is not a physical server, in terms of management, it is. If you have special needs for your server, you have the control to address them.
Cloud hosting is somewhat like VPS because the server is not the same as a physical machine. But cloud hosting is distributed over many computers. As a result, cloud hosting is extremely stable and scalable. If you find that your website is lagging because of lack of bandwidth, you can increase it with the flip of a switch. The same thing goes for disk space and CPU usage. If industry-leading uptime and rapid-scalability are your two biggest worries, cloud hosting might be just what you're looking for. Cloud hosting will give you access to a cluster of servers from which you can quickly provision resources when you need them, and enough separation from unruly server neighbors that your application is kept safe. VPS and Cloud services are sometimes combined into a hybrid service (sometimes called Cloud VPS or Scalable VPS).
If you're ready to be done sharing server resources dedicated hosting will provide you complete and unfettered access to a physical server. Useful for powering complex applications and advanced scripts, dedicated hosting provides the highest level of security and server customization possible. Also see: Colocation.
This is a special kind of hosting. If you want to sell hosting while someone else maintains the server, reseller hosting provides this. But you can get reseller hosting that is shared, VPS, cloud, or dedicated. With it, you buy access to server resources in bulk, and then resell it under your own brand. Clearly, reseller hosting is not for people new to web hosting. It is an advanced type of hosting, which requires you to provide your customers with customer and technical support.
People use websites for all kinds of things. And exactly what you want to do will dictate what kind of hosting you need. But there are popular kinds of websites like blogs. As a result, there are specialized hosting plans for these kinds of websites, which we will discuss below.
WordPress is the most popular blogging platform in the world. But since its launch in 2003, it has grown into a powerful content management system (CMS) that is used for a whole lot more than blogging. If you want to spend less time configuring and managing your WordPress installation, you should consider a hosting plan that specializes in WordPress. Most plans make setting it up easy, but some even set it up for you, leaving you more time to personalize your site and create content.
Java is a veteran object-oriented programming language for applications and websites, first released in 1995. While Java has lost popularity as a client-side language it still sees heavy use in server-side applications — especially at big sites like Amazon and Ebay. If you want to implement server-side features powered by Java you'll want to be sure to select a Java-enabled hosting plan.
PHP is a server-side scripting language. It originally stood for "Personal Home Page." But it is now known by the recursive acronym, "PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor." It is supported by most hosting providers, and is theoretically available on just about any server. It is one of the most popular scripting languages in the world. Many popular applications are written in PHP, in particular, the three most popular content management systems: WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. But many people write their own specialized PHP applications. If it's PHP hosting you seek you will have no shortage of options.
Joomla is a flexible content management system and web application framework. It is the second most popular blogging platform after WordPress. It's a bit more technical than WordPress, but is especially valued for use as the basis for ecommerce sites. If you want to build website powered by Joomla check out our hosting page on it.
ASP.NET is a server-side scripting framework. It is extremely powerful and lets you use pretty much any language you want to create your website. It is kind of like the Microsoft equivalent of PHP. But for people who are established Microsoft programmers and who are proficient in Visual Basic or C#, it is a great choice. But most hosting providers do not support it.
Besides choosing between hosting type and specialization, your other main choice when it comes to hosting a website is the operating system (OS) of the web server. But some of your other choices may dictate what OS you pick. Note: you don't have to use Linux for your work to use Linux hosting, or Windows to use Windows hosting.
Linux is the most common hosting platform in the world. Linux servers are a popular choice for many websites and applications. If you're looking for a hosting platform that can handle today's most common programming languages and applications (PHP + MySQL) consider Linux hosting. It is the industry-standard hosting platform. In fact, it has a simple acronym, LAMP, which stands for Linux, Apache (web server), MySQL (database), and PHP.
Windows is the hosting platform powered by Microsoft. If you want a server that can handle Windows applications, databases, and programming frameworks like ASP.NET, you will need to get Windows hosting. And you aren't limited to Microsoft tools. You still have the flexibility to utilize common web programming languages like PHP and MySQL. Traditionally, Windows hosting cost more money than Linux hosting. But this is less true today. Many companies offer the same price for both platforms.
Almost all hosting providers offer at least some unlimited plans: unlimited storage, unlimited email, unlimited bandwidth. A number of providers offer nothing but such unlimited plans. But "unlimited" doesn't mean what most people think it does. All it means is that the company hasn't set a limit on your resource usage. The demon is in the details, and the details will be found in the hosting provider's terms of service (TOS). Luckily for all of us, pretty much every TOS says the same thing: you can't abuse their servers.
Take our little joke about Amazon above. If Amazon decided to host its website using HostGator's unmetered Hatchling Plan for a couple of dollars per month, it would crash the server it was running on. But more important to Amazon, it would bring down their website and cost them millions of dollars. And that provides an important lesson to website owners: it doesn't matter if your hosting provider will allow you to go crazy with server resources if it ends up with your website loading slowly and crashing many times per day.
So remember that while unlimited web hosting plans do free you up to have a more casual approach to your resource usage, you still need to find a plan that is equivalent to your needs. Think of it like having a classic American Express card. You have no pre-set limit. But you aren't going to be able to buy things you can't ultimately afford.
The cliche in the real estate world is that the three most important considerations when buying a home is location, location, location. On the internet, there seems to be no location. You can visit a site out of Beijing as easily as you can Topeka. But just because you can go everywhere in the world on the internet doesn't mean that the internet isn't localized. If you want your website visitors to be served as quickly as possible, you are best to host your web server close to them.
There are two approaches to this. If the vast majority of your visitors are from a particular place, you are best to choose a server that is located near that place. For example, if your website focuses on the music scene in Berlin, you are best to find a hosting company with a datacenter in Germany.
The other approach is to use a content delivery network (CDN), which puts your content on servers all over the world. With a CDN, your visitors will get webpages served from the closest server. The only problem with using a CDN is that they usually cost more.
It is important to remember that when you sign up with a web hosting company, you are not just purchasing a set of technologies. You are also entering into a business relationship. There are many non-tech reasons why you might choose one host over another. You need to be able to trust your hosting company. This is where customer reviews can be very useful.
In addition to this, you need to be able to depend upon your web host when things go wrong. What kind of support does it offer? And what language is it provided in? Support in Malagasy is probably essential if you live and work in Madagascar, but fairly useless if you are in North America.
Deciding on what company to choose for web hosting is a complicated process. But we can make your life a whole lot easier. Check out our Host Comparison Tool to sort options by price and features, then read real user reviews about individual hosting companies.
Whatever your needs, we probably have a guide and FAQs to help you through the jargon and choose a suitable host. Whether you are looking for specific developer features like Ruby on Rails, or need a host that accepts PayPal or Bitcoin -- we've got you covered.